NZ Utes: Series Ruapuna preview

V8 UTES STORM THE SOUTH ISLAND Round 4 of the 2009/2010 NZV8 Utes Series at Powerbuilt Tools Raceway at Ruapuna in Christchurch this weekend has the potential to be the most exciting of the series so far. The penultimate round will...


Round 4 of the 2009/2010 NZV8 Utes Series at Powerbuilt Tools Raceway at Ruapuna in Christchurch this weekend has the potential to be the most exciting of the series so far. The penultimate round will feature several interesting scenarios.

First up is the struggle for championship glory. With just two rounds remaining Chris Pither 'The Doctor' in his ENZED Falcon Ute and 'The Ginja Ninja' Caine Lobb in the Mark Cromie Holden are locked in an intriguing battle for the title. The duo are separated by just 40 points and at their last outing a tiebreaker had to be utilised to decide which of the pair was the round winner.

Pither of Palmerston North is fresh from competing with distinction in the Legends Ute races at Adelaide last weekend. During that outing the 23-year-old regained the Adelaide lap record which he last held in 2007 when he was a regular participant in the Australian Series.

Meanwhile, Lobb of Whangarei, is something of a Ruapuna specialist. He began a run of success at this track last year that ultimately saw him take the V8 Utes title. "I like Ruapuna, it's a cool track. It tends to favour Holdens. It is a drag strip then a corner then another drag strip. We started a pretty good winning streak here last year but Chris (Pither) is pretty good and we would need to win every single race at the final two rounds and he would have to be a non finisher in two of them. If we can close the gap to him at these two rounds I will be pretty satisfied."

A strong contingent of Canterbury drivers will also take to the track for the series penultimate round. Simon 'Sly Si' Grace, Graham 'Snr Burner' Beirne and 'The Loan Ranger' Mike Pero are all drivers of note and will be in their element at their home circuit.

Grace has been a standout in his rookie year. Currently third in the championship, Grace has unfortunately had a far from ideal build-up to his home race. He has been suffering from glandular fever and toncilitis and was hospitalised a fortnight ago. "I've spent the last two weeks off work recovering. I'm planning to be on the grid but we have to take it day by day." Before he became ill Grace and his team had made some changes to his Wunderfloor Commodore but the illness has meant they have been unable to get on track to check the effect of those changes. "Right now we don't know where we are at. We were keen to get it right at our home track. In our pre-season tests we were going good here and we want to put on a good show for our local sponsors, family and friends."

The other local drivers bound to make their presence felt at their home circuit are Graham Beirne, currently fifth in his John Jones Steel Falcon and Pero who is eighth in his Holden albeit only 26 points behind Grace in third, such is the closeness and competitiveness of the V8 Utes field.

The close nature of the points battle is underlined by the predicament of Palmerston North driver Geoff 'Spence' Spencer. Spencer is fourth in the championship just 5 points behind Grace and aiming for third. However Beirne is just 4 points behind Spencer. "I'm the North Island meat in the sandwich," he says. While the locals surround him in the points he loves their track. "It's a grouse track. The different model utes all have their strengths at different places around here."

Meanwhile series regular 'Dirty'Dave Kernohan of Turangi will be joined on the grid by his son Jeff this weekend. Kernohan senior lies ninth in the series in his Kernohan Contracting Falcon while son Jeff is making his driving debut in another Falcon, taking advantage of a spare ute that was available.

Another to watch this weekend is Mike "Buzz" Lightfoot of Auckland, fresh from a third place overall in just his second ever V8 Ute start at Hampton Downs, a remarkable achievement.

Timaru driver Chris Dunn makes his V8 Utes debut this weekend in the Bob Grove Falcon. Grove, unable to travel south, has done a deal with Dunn to run the Ute in his absence. Dunn, widely experienced in a wide range of machinery, has partnered John Bowe to a podium at Bathurst in a Mustang, underlining his ability. Although running the Falcon on a shoestring, including using Groves old tyres, Dunn hopes to crack the top six.

Meanwhile Peter Ward and Steve Elliott will miss both South Island rounds due to work commitments although both drivers will be back on the grid for the Trans-Tasman Ute clash at the Hamilton 400 next month.

The battle throughout the entire field will be intense with the points difference between the third placed driver in the series and ninth just 35 points, less than that available for a win in one race.

After a 25 minute practice on Saturday morning the V8 Utes receive a 20 minute qualifying session at 2.35pm that afternoon. The first race of the round over 8 laps follows at 4.50pm.

The following day features three more races, all of 8 laps duration. The action begins for the V8 Ute competitors with a marble draw grid race at 11.10am with a reverse marble grid race at 1.45pm. The final race features a grid based on points scored over the weekend to that stage. That race will feature a pitstop.

The final round of the series takes place at the Timaru International Motor Raceway over the weekend of 27/28 March.

The NZV8 Utes Series enjoys support from corporate partners, ENZED, Radio Hauraki and Yokohama for this season while the NZV8 Utes are managed by category manager, Jamie Kett of Event 1.

-source: nzv8 utes

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Series V8S
Drivers John Bowe , Chris Pither